King County Metro was recognized this week with a national 2018 Bus Safety & Security Excellence Award for its Transit Operator Assault Program, which helped reduce assaults on operators by 53 percent since 2008. That drop is despite a 17-percent increase in ridership over that same period.

Metro was presented with a “Certificate of Merit for Security” for transit agencies with more than 20 million riders at the American Public Transportation Association’s annual conference in Tampa, Florida. A Certificate of Merit is given to organizations in recognition of exceptional achievement in safety or security.

Most assaults on operators involve minor assaults such as pushing, grabbing, touching or spitting. There were two felony-level assaults (involving bodily harm or use of a weapon) in 2016 and none in 2017.

The Transit Operator Assault Program takes a multi-pronged approach that focuses on police responses, data analysis, and de-escalating training for operators. Metro Transit Police, and Metro’s Transit Safety and Operations staff place a high priority on operator assaults; police respond to every assault reported to the dispatch center, and each case is forwarded to a detective for investigation. Safety and Operations staff ensure that operators receive appropriate medical and personal attention; and conduct internal hazard analyses on how to further reduce the risks to operators and whether training and/or additional support is needed.

“Anytime a bus operator is assaulted, there can be significant trauma to the driver and to our customers,” Metro’s Deputy General Manager Terry White said. “Metro is honored to be recognized for our collaborative efforts to prevent assaults on operators, but this award does not mean our job is done. We will continue our work to further improve the safety of our transit system for all our operators and customers.”

In its nomination letter, Metro attributed the assault reduction program’s success to three important components:  “1) a philosophy of teamwork; 2) a commitment to a data-driven approach; and 3) employment of effective risk management.”

Metro sees more than 400,000 boardings every weekday and security incidents are thankfully infrequent. Still, Metro continues working closely with operators, law enforcement, ATU Local 587 and the greater community to prevent misconduct and further improve safety for everyone who rides the transit system. In 2016, after a slight uptick in operator assaults, Metro held three security summit with drivers, ATU, and Metro Transit Police.

Metro plans to equip its entire fleet with security cameras, and is more than halfway toward that goal. Metro also is testing the use of video monitors on 33 buses serving the RapidRide A and F Lines, and is running pilot project with protective enclosures known as “driver shields” on eight buses around King County.

Nominations for the APTA Safety & Security Excellence award are evaluated on four criteria: effectiveness, benefit level, innovation, and transferability. The award provides value to the transit industry by “benchmarking successful programs so other public transit systems can adopt them and derive similar benefits,” according to APTA. The top honor is the GOLD Award, which is given to organizations with the best overall bus safety or bus security program.